North American Conference on British Studies 1
Ireland has a long history of emigration, with an estimated ten million people having left the island since the eighteenth century. This large-scale emigration has left an enduring legacy as Irish migrants have sought to maintain connections to Ireland while establishing new loyalties overseas. These papers focus on the varied experiences of Irish-American immigrants and address questions of belonging and exclusion within a trans-Atlantic context.
This panel is comprised of American and Britain-based scholars of British, North American, and Irish history, whose research provides new insights into Irish ethnic, gender, and political identities. Dr. Sophie Cooper’s paper will be of particular interest to a Chicago-based audience, as she examines the efforts of women religious in Chicago parish schools to develop and maintain connections between Irish-born and Irish-descended children. While historians have noted the vocal role of religious brothers in the fight for Irish independence, that of women religious has been largely overlooked. These teaching sisters, Dr. Cooper argues, were important agents in the creation of an Irish ethnic community life in mid-nineteenth-century Chicago, one that male political leaders could subsequently access. Dr. Gillian O’Brien will also explore Irish-American nationalism in nineteenth-century Chicago communities; she will do so, however, through the links between Scotland Yard and its North American-based spies. Specifically, Dr. O’Brien’s paper focuses on Henri le Caron, an English spy who infiltrated Chicago-area Irish nationalist groups, and his London-based handler, Robert Anderson. This story of international espionage, she argues, sheds light on the development of Chicago as the center of Irish-American radical nationalism and transnational efforts to undermine late-nineteenth-century revolutionary societies. In his paper, Dr. Hidetaka Hirota moves us from Irish immigrants in Chicago to those migrants deported back to their place of origin. In particular, he examines nineteenth-century American deportation policies within a transnational context to challenge the prevailing domestic approach to American nativism. Focusing on the post-deportation lives of Irish individuals in Britain and Ireland, Dr. Hirota demonstrates that American immigration policy was part of a broader legal culture—one that excluded and marginalized the Irish poor as non-producing members of societies from across the Atlantic world. Our chair and commentator, Dr. Jill Bender, is an expert in Irish migration within the British Empire and is well-prepared to contextualize and encourage an audience of non-specialists to consider the wider implications of Irish ethnic identities.